The complexities of the Affordable Care Act continue to confound employers and their employees, which is why communication between your employer clients and their staff will be more important than ever during the upcoming open enrollment season and into 2015.

“Listening is more critical than ever,” says Teresa White, executive vice president and chief operations officer of Aflac Columbus.

During her keynote address Monday at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Summit in Boca Raton, Fla., she cautioned employers and benefit professionals not to limit benefit communications to the open enrollment period alone. A vast majority of employees admit to a lack of knowledge about the Affordable Care Act, she said, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to help their workers make smart choices about their benefit options.

See related story: Helping employers close the communication gap

Employee education about their benefits is also essential, especially for the staff of employers shifting to private exchanges, which White predicts we’ll see more of in 2015.

Employees need to be made aware of potentially higher out-of-pocket expenses, she says. “They don’t really know how to put together the plans.”

Another trend White discussed is nothing new – health care costs are rising. Employers continue to rely on cost-shifting to their employees to minimize the increasing cost of offering health care coverage, White said, adding that many employers are adopting reference-based plans.

Next year, White said, she expects 80% of companies with 1,000 employees or more to switch to high-deductible plans, despite the fact it carries the risk of employees focusing on low premiums without considering how to pay for higher out-of-pocket expenses.

Employers who are educated about benefits can also better attract and retain skilled workers, White said, adding that benefit offerings can give employers a competitive advantage.

“Talented workers are looking for enlightened employers,” White said.

Brokers, advisers and consultants play a major role in educating employees as well, she added. Anything that can be done to build employees’ confidence regarding benefits decisions is positive for both the worker and employer.

“Engagement is the name of the game,” she said.

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